Sarah Hall: ‘I was afraid to open a book’ | imagination

sArrah Hall, 48, is the author of award-winning short stories and novels, among which Mrs. Fox And the Michelangelo Electric. last one, Printcott, is one of the first long-running novels of the Covid era to grapple with life during pandemic after pandemic, although the plague it describes is much more deadly. Her scathing prose deals with many other things, including themes of art, intimacy, and memory.

When did you start writing? Printcott?
On the first day of the first shutdown in March 2020, with notebooks and a pen, which I haven’t done since my first novel, 20 years ago. It seemed to be a reaction to what was going on—that strange scribble in the smallest room of the house, really early in the morning when it was quiet and eerie.

And you kept it even while you were at home Teaching your daughter?
A part of me was thinking, “That’s just one more thing that’s going to make work difficult and I’m going to do it anyway.” I was worried, but I’m a single parent and get into, as I call it, Sarah Connor’s status of The finisher: It is there, here is my child, what should I do? Get the orange! I have pains in my hand because I wasn’t used to writing much.

How well did you know the novel in the beginning?
I had a sense of form if not plot, and I went with the hope that it would be a strong little novel – that’s my favorite to read. I also had a feeling that he would somehow find out what was going on – at least the fear and uncertainty – and that there would be a connection and a meeting of cultures.

How about searching?
I did hoof research, on the phone at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. That was really fun and terrifying – not because of Covid, because of everything else that is in the lockers waiting to jump in. I love feeding discoveries, it makes writing more lively because I’m so lively. My writing is often unresolved. To me, writing feels like a query.

Has the pandemic changed your view of your role as a writer?
I haven’t felt this urgency in a while. I think these big patriotic moments trigger a feeling of wanting to do something, and for me the answer has been to sit down and work. It’s as if five feet of snow fell overnight in the lake area – you have to get out and start digging.

your hero in Printcott She was told she had a “high tolerance for uncertainty”. How are you with her?
Not good, and maybe that’s why I’m writing about it. I’m getting better – I think you should as you get older. I’ve lost my parents in the past six or seven years, and this throws everything in a different light.

Are there any creative works that give you solace when thinking of a yard?
Lots of Egon Schiele’s paintings. You get to die cuddling a woman and it’s hard to look at her but that produces a lot – you have to admit things about the body, about what it is now. It’s not the convenience they offer, but that’s not what I want to see or read anyway.

What do you want to see or read?
Something trying to find human truth. I still love James Salter’s work, and I keep quoting this line from single faces, one of his early accounts: “There comes a moment when the knife must be pushed coldly, or else the victim wins.” It’s horrific but psychologically true.

Your back list includes some great titles.
Some of them are really mysterious! I love nicknames. I have a titles-only document – I’ve given titles to book friends.

What brings you back to artists as heroes?
I have a lot of artists in my family and I studied art history. When people ask me about influences, I probably put the names of artists, paintings, and music on literature. It’s also great to be able to write about art – I love this challenge of moving things from one discipline to another.

Have you ever thought of becoming an artist on your own?
No, I haven’t settled on any technical education, but I make shadow boxes. I showed one in a gallery Robert MacFarlane selected. I also talk about writing as making. It feels almost tangible, structural and musical.

I recently made a file program for radio 4 About Radiohead ok computer. How was that?
Really fun and really weird. There are a lot of Radiohead fans out there, and this album hit a lot of us in our early twenties and really grabbed us.

Tell me about a writer you admire.
Svetlana AlexievichBelarusian writer. I definitely loved The non-female face of war There is also the fact that she has been outspoken about the current situation with Ukraine and Russia, and has encouraged prominent Russians to act against the disinformation campaign.

Did you read a lot as a kid?
I had a really difficult relationship with books. I grew up in a remote part of the Lake District, and I wanted other kids. I was afraid to almost open a book, as if it was a portal or an oubliette that would take me further into the loneliness.

What has changed?
I read two books that really hit me – Zacharias by Robert C O’Brien was one of them. I’m still a tough reader. I may be deficient but I can’t read something that, as Andrew Miller describes it, is PNN: an utterly beautiful novel. I’m sensual, and if you’re going to get me into a book, you’d better be good at creating a world as good as this one, down to the atom.

Are there other books that stuck with you from childhood or from reading to your daughter?
I got a short story from Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. There is a blank page and it just says “Good night nobody”. Every time I read the line I dizzy. It’s so terrible! This is the thing about children’s literature. Sometimes it’s so weird, you just can’t parse it.

What’s on your bedside table?
I read King’s painter Written by Amy Sackville, and it’s cool – it’s about Velzquez, so it’s really interesting about the art world and beautifully written. And the Renewal: Feeding the World Without devouring the planet By George Monbiot You just landed. It’s scary, isn’t it, getting into those books that you know are going to be really, really, really scary?

What is the last book you put unfinished?
I do it so often that I don’t remember it. It’s not just about reading, there are so many things I’d rather do.

Is writing one of them?
I like writing above most other things. It’s tough, and the pressure is constant to pay the bills, but I’m OK with the moments I don’t put words on the page every day. Novels are like marathons – you may have so much inside of you just before you get on your knees.

Are there any classics you’re ashamed of reading?
I’m not ashamed, especially in regards to the people I was supposed to read for my degree. I haven’t read any Dickens – not a word. I did not read Wuthering Heights Either but I read it to me, which was great.

By whom?
I can not say.